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Dance beyond limits

Last updated: 16 July, 2011

Contemporary choreography

Debbie rodgers meets Robert Bosch Young Choreographers Award 2010 winners, Diya Naidu and Denny Paul, the newest and brightest stars of the Indian contemporary dance world, and finds them to be two seemingly ordinary people with an extraordinary talent.

Impressive: Diya  engrossed in their intense  performance.  PHOTOS BY AUTHORThey are the quintessential boy and girl next door; two seemingly ordinary people with an extraordinary talent. A talent that has, since 2006, been fired, tempered and moulded on the anvil of Attakkalari’s Diploma in Movement Arts and Mixed Media and subsequently as part of the Attakkalari Repertory. This talent was validated when they won the Robert Bosch Young Choreographer’s Award 2010. This is just the beginning for Diya Naidu and Denny Paul, the newest and brightest stars in the firmament of the Indian contemporary dance world.

No two people are as different: Diya, dubbed “the gypsy” from Kolkata, is articulate, with a confidence and clarity of thought that surpasses her age. Her interests are as varied as swimming, movies and writing, of which she says: “I write like I choreograph — with a lot of montage!” Denny Paul is the song writer with a published album to his credit, an avid footballer, measured in his speech; and seemingly as calm as the languid backwaters of his native Kerala. Yet, they share a common passion in their love of contemporary dance that is infectious and all consuming.

There are no startling revelations about discovering the dancer within. Rather, for both Diya and Denny it has been a deliberate, if painful, process of transformation during their four-year tenure with Attakkalari. “One of the challenges we faced is that we have no memory of our body or feelings, before we trained,” explains Diya. While Diya comes from a Jazz and Kathak background, Denny was involved in exotic Bollywood dance, choreographing for Malayalam movies. Both had to spend the next few years unlearning all the past learning, oscillating between the various classical dance forms and martial arts that go into contemporary dance.

The most difficult for 30-year-old Denny was getting back to learning the basics when he was already used to choreographing, teaching and performing. He found that “this very different world” of contemporary dance was multi-dimensional and that he had to concentrate on “connecting all the spaces and directions — working on focus, mental stamina and physical strength.”

For Diya, the ontological challenge weighed in more than the physical or mental. “As a contemporary dancer, you cannot get stuck — it’s not about the form — the minute you find you have personified a particular form, you have to break it — that’s how it works! So the process everyday of living, dying and then being reborn is a very painful and beautiful process; and some days I hate it, I feel like my body is exploding and I think. my God I can’t do this anymore! But you do, and it’s our way of finding a secret place, our way of being alive of making our existence valid. To preserve that every single day is a challenge!” she explains.

Denny’s first solo piece Uyire (life force) is an autobiographical perspective of the relationship between the past and the present. His creative process involved examining five situations that had an impact on his life, and then carving a path to the future “almost like the process of purification by fire,” he says. Initially, when he worked on his movements, they were lyrical and beautiful but his mentor, theatre director Sankar Venkateswara, encouraged him to push the boundaries and to experiment. To this end he chose five words from the five situations in his life and experimented, for hours, infusing them with different breath patterns. The result of this and several other experiments with time and speed gave a new life to his movements and amazing new dimensions to Uyire.

For her first solo piece, Nadir, 27-year-old Diya chose to explore ideas of isolation and the inescapable fact of bondage within separation. She examined the differences between loneliness/ aloneness/ isolation — “not as a bad thing, but as a reality of our existence.”

Her research to create movement material was extensive and included dissecting a personal, painful memory that was the catalyst for the piece; interviewing people about isolation in their lives and watching their reaction as they spoke about God. Diya would then play the interviews aloud in the studio, when alone, letting herself absorb the emotions that these people were conveying — “and if that brought me to move, I would start a movement from there,” she explains; a process that was “a long, frustrating journey.” She also credits her mentor Kaushik Sen, a Bengali theatre director and film actor, with encouraging her to examine theatre techniques during the 10 days that she spent in Kolkata under his guidance. It was a move that added surprising layers and facets to Nadir. And while the accolades reverberate, “the emotional journey is still happening, the evolution of the self is still being processed, and the effect of that painful event has gone into some learning as opposed to letting it be a destructive space in me,” says Diya.

The greatest learning for Diya has been the patience involved in the artistic process, the ability to observe rather than react to the crosswinds of forces and influences that surround a dancer, allowing the waiting to germinate and transform from within. “For me, it’s all about accessing the divine in yourself and how it fits into the context of my life and the lives of those watching,” she says.

Diya has also learnt that “the body never lies”. Her preoccupation used to be about the ‘form’ of a particular dance; but now she sees a universal language in all dance forms worldwide.

During the one year from concept to the performance of Uyire, Denny was amazed at how much his artistic mental processing developed, which impacted his physical movements as a dancer. From being a “planned, controlled choreographer,” he has progressed to looking beyond the obvious with a more analytical and philosophical gaze. This makes him more spontaneous, adding strata to the creative process.

Diya does not like to be introduced as “The Dancer”; while she is proud to be one, she is very clear that it is not her only identity. Rather she rephrases it as ‘Diya, the Body’. “My connection with my body has grown — it is now a tool for my seeking. My being inhabits my body and the way I inhabit my body is very much a part of my identity,” she explains.
Denny, the choreographer, concentrated for a while on being ‘Denny the Dancer’ before he realised that like his autobiographical dance piece, in real life too he was reaching back into his past to validate the present and seek a path into the future.

Diya and Denny have worked extensively with each other and have mutual admiration for each other’s creativity, passion, honesty, focus and seemingly inexhaustible energy that, paradoxically, is also their weakness. Both have performed abroad and in India as part of the Attakkalari Repertory.

While Diya leads independent contemporary dance classes through Attakkalari’s community dance programme, Denny is an effective communicator and has worked as a choreographer and teacher in varied contexts.

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